National Stadium mess shows FG’s poor sport acumen

THE furore over a N21 billion rehabilitation plan for the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, offers irrefutable proof that like his predecessors, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has bungled sport administration. The pushback by the Minister of Youth and Sports, Sunday Dare, to the decay at the complex is belated, showing how the regime has dropped the ball on sport development. The situation at the other sport centres owned by the Federal Government is no better. In the interest of the country’s sport development, this ought to change.

Successive governments have been oblivious of the weighty role sport plays in a country’s socioeconomic life. This is evident in the appointment of outsiders as sport ministers by successive presidents since 1999. Currently, the media has exposed the decay at the Surulere edifice, once the pride of all Nigerians. With the Buhari regime on its way out, the incoming administration must make sport development and reinvention of facilities a core undertaking.

The specifics of the decay, as unearthed by a national newspaper report, are distressing. It detailed how a three-pronged reconstruction work sponsored by a private individual has gone awry three years after it began in 2020. Originally scheduled to last six months, the reconstruction, costing $1 million, is for the football pitch, tracks, and scoreboard.

On Wednesday, the newspaper reported that one of the giant floodlights collapsed shortly after a morning downpour. The ministry should not wait until a costlier disaster happens in Surulere and other arenas before doing the right thing. Commendably, Dare on Friday ordered its temporary closure.

Like most things Nigerian, the renewal missed the deadline. However, most other facilities in the stadium are derelict. The elements have torn off the roof of the covered stands, the seats broken, the dressing rooms in tatters, the turnstiles, and toilets a pigsty; there is no water. It has been like that for decades. The swimming pool, the indoor and knockdown halls, the tennis courts, and the practice pitch give only a glimpse of their former glory.

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Soon after the exposé, the ministry went into overdrive. During a visit there, Dare stated that all federal administrations from 1999 abandoned the edifice. This excuse is lame as he and Buhari have had four and eight years respectively to do better than their predecessors and fix the problem.

Dare said N21 billion is needed to restore the stadium fully. He needs to provide the public with specifics of this. It should be part of a holistic programme to restore all national sport facilities.

On electricity, Dare said the stadium and the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium in Ibadan, Oyo State, owed the utility companies N950 million. Ministries, departments, and agencies at the federal, state, and local levels are notorious for owing utility companies.

Built for N12 million and opened in 1972 by the Yakubu Gowon regime, the decaying stadium mirrors the central government’s voracious appetite for acquiring what it cannot manage. Stadiums constructed by the defunct regional governments in Ibadan, Kaduna and Enugu were all appropriated by the Federal Government. The outcome is that Abuja lacks the resources and acumen to maintain them.

Reputable facilities are at the heart of sport development. Without them, Nigeria cannot expect to be a major global force in sport. Currently, facilities are either non-existent or are weather-beaten. Up-and-coming athletes struggle to find training facilities.

The neglect, poor administration and woeful facilities have reflected on the country’s performance on the field. Although the Super Eagles qualified for the World Cup 2018 in Russia, their listless outing saw them bundled out in the first round. The Eagles fell to Ghana’s Black Stars in the final qualification hurdle for the World Cup 2022 in Qatar. The age-group national teams have also been performing below par. There is a silver lining: the Flying Eagles will play in the FIFA World Youth Championship holding later this year in Argentina.

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Also, the brightest spot in the Buhari era was in July 2022 when Tobi Amusan grabbed the gold and the world record (12.12 seconds) in the women’s 100 metres hurdles at the World Athletics Championships in Oregon, United States. Long jumper, Ese Brume, also brought home a couple of medals from the IAAF WAC and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Likewise, Blessing Oborududu earned a silver medal in wrestling at the Games. For all of Nigeria’s potential, these successes, though heart-warming, are rather few; some were achieved mainly because the athletes train overseas, where the facilities are first-rate.

   Nigeria loses as sport is a major economic booster elsewhere. Statista reported that the global sports market grew from $486.61 billion in 2022 to $512.14 billion in 2023, a 5.2 percent rise. The average NBA team in the US was worth $2.8 billion in 2022.

An English Premier League club, Manchester United, is negotiating a sale of about £6 billion. Chelsea was sold for $5.4 billion in 2022. In Italy, the Serie A clubs generated €2.49 billion in the 2018/2019 season. According to the BBC, in the 2019/2020 season, Premier League football contributed £7.6 billion to the UK economy. That year, the Premier League and its clubs generated a total tax contribution of £3.6 billion to the UK Exchequer, £1.4 billion of which was from the players.

 Nigeria is missing out on such income streams. More saddening is that the country abounds with talents and potential. The primitive policy whereby the Federal Government controls everything inhibits progress.  Sport has suffered gross neglect at the grassroots with everything centralised.

The debacle is compounded at the state level. The sub-national governments own football, basketball, volleyball, handball, and hockey teams (male and female in some cases). But with funding scarce and facilities woeful, most of the teams are living on past glory. States should privatise the clubs and concentrate on erecting standard facilities to promote sport development.

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The world over, perceptive governments adopt two major options. Some, like, Brazil, Australia, Egypt, South Africa, and Senegal have public stadiums for their national teams. The English FA owns the Wembley Stadium. In Australia, the case of the Melbourne Cricket Ground shows federalism at play because it is owned by Victoria State. Elsewhere, countries adopt stadiums for the use of their national teams; this is the practice in the US. Out of the 20 teams in Italy’s top division, only four owned their stadiums in 2022. The rest play in state-owned arenas.

Undoubtedly, the current formula has failed woefully, meaning Nigeria needs a new architecture to realise its abundant potential in sport. Therefore, the Federal Government should return the stadiums it hijacked to the states, concentrating on the Surulere and Abuja arenas.

Dare said on Friday that the government was moving ahead with the concession option that would see the comprehensive rehabilitation and upgrade of the Surulere stadium. This is a progressive option that the Buhari regime should have long concluded. It should be done transparently and the stadium entrusted to capable investors under an agreement favourable to Nigeria and sport development.  Professional managers should run stadiums, not civil servants.

Sport thrives better as a private enterprise. Therefore, the government should relinquish its grip on sport associations. This is the way to attract mega sponsorship deals from multinationals. In Europe, most associations are privately run with the government giving them annual grants to participate in international competitions.

Nigeria’s federal and state governments should do likewise.

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